IN S. STEPHENS’ OWN WORDS…I’m S. Stephens and I was born in the sixties. I live in Northern Virginia with my partner of 15 years and our 9-year old daughter. I’m a probation officer by day, writer, hands on Mom and supportive partner by night. Please visit my website at www.sstephens.info and check out this interview for more information.
How long have you been writing and how did you get you get started?
I’ve been writing for my own benefit for the last 5 or 6 years. I started out writing a screenplay which is my first love. I’ve also written a few short stories and essays. I write mostly when my heart and mind becomes heavy. A lot of the stuff I’ve written is political or social.
Give a brief synopsis of Am I My Sister’s Keeper.
The book is about a young African-American woman returning home from college to her family, friends and her church. She is in turmoil over her sexuality. Elise really knows who she is in the pit of her soul although she questions herself throughout the book. She allows the elements around her to challenge who she is, thus sending everyone she loves and cares about on this deadly and emotional rollercoaster ride.
How long did it take to write Am I My Sister’s Keeper?
I started writing this book on July 21, 2001 it was published in September 2005.
Describe the main character, Elise James. Is she similar to you in any way?
Elise’s character remains sympathetic throughout the book. You may get frustrated with her for her lying to herself and deceiving others. But I don’t believe she’s disliked, simply because she comes across as charming. I think her character is similar to me only in the sense that Elise always knew that she was a lesbian and so did I.
Was your coming out process similar to Elise’s struggle?
I think most people’s coming out process is a struggle. Some events in Elise’s life parallel my life, but for the most part this is a work of fiction.
Was it hard creating a character like Elise, someone so unsure of herself?
Not at all, I think when we talk about sexuality there is some sense of insecurity for some. If society as a whole was more accepting of gays/lesbians Elise still would have had a problem because she did not want to accept that she was a lesbian. So by the people around her not accepting it allowed her to
perpetuate this turmoil in her life. The bottom line is that you have to know who you are and love that person just as you are. If you struggle with that there is no way you can stand up to family, friends, church or society.
Elise endured a long battle with being true to herself and trying to please her family’s wishes. Do you think most African American gays are the same way?
Most I’ve encountered.
Her family was so deep in denial about what was going on with their own daughter. Why do you think African American families in particular have such a problem with homosexuality?
Because of the way we were raised. In my opinion we as African Americans tend to look for validity in our lives. We look for something or someone of great importance to tell us that our life is valid i.e., parents, celebrities, ministers or politicians before we can say “I’m okay just the way I am.” We must realize that we’re okay because we’re here on this earth. I answer to one entity. I get all of who I am from the most high.
Why do you say in your bio that we must realize the importance that we all should accept and honor our positions as our sister’s keeper?
Because it’s an honor to be in a position to accept the responsibility as our sister’s keeper. We must accept the responsibility to encourage and empower those around us. There is nothing more important than hearing from another human being and especially our African American sisters that you’re worthy. Especially if you were blessed to have been taught those words or if you learned it through trial and error. Worthy not to subject yourself to domestic violence, worthy not to submit to drug addiction, worthy not allow your self esteem to get so low that you allow another human being to define who you are. We have to look outside of just taking care of our own families. Our children are not going to live in a bubble all of their lives they’re going to go out into the world and live life. If we commit ourselves to saying YES I AM my sister’s keeper, we commit ourselves to saying I’m doing my part to be responsible and have my sister’s back, which will make it a lot easier for those who come behind us. By the way this is not validation this is guidance.
What kind of feedback have you gotten from Am I My Sister’s Keeper?
Feedback has been amazing and positive. My greatest joy is when someone writes to say thank you for writing this book and they can now move in the direction of confronting their own issues.
What are you working on next?
Actually, I’m working on the sequel to Am I My Sister’s Keeper and I started writing the screenplay for Am I My Sister’s Keeper before I started writing the book. I hope to have the sequel out by the end of summer 2006.
Who are you favorite authors? Favorite books?
Maya Angelou, Alice Walker, E. Lynn Harris and Iyanla Vanzant. I love all of E. Lynn Harris books, The Color Purple, Acts of Faith, The Four Agreements and In The Meantime.
What do you like to do for fun?
I love to travel to almost anywhere. Of course I collect hats and I really love the theatre. But my greatest joy is hanging out with my family.
Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
Writing, writing and writing. I also hope to start a foundation to assist with the rehabilitation of ex-offenders.
What piece of advice can you share with aspiring writers, as you say you did not take the conventional route to writing?
Take a writing course which I plan on doing real soon. I believe that’s why it took so long for me to complete this book. I have learned so much about the art of writing and I can’t wait to apply my new skills to my next book. Read as many different books that you possibly have time to read. It will allow you to see many different styles of writing.
Interviewed December 2005
S. Stephens’ Reviews